A season ago, especially after wide midfielder Chris Klein went down in mid-August, the Kansas City Wizards attack was mostly Route One: Get the ball as quickly as possible to the cunning and cutting forward tandem of Davy Arnaud and Josh Wolff. And, more often than not, the tactic paid off, with much thanks to the staunch defense.
This season, if things take shape as anticipated, the Wizards plan on a more varied attack involving more possession, more skill, and even more speed. The offseason additions of draftees Scott Sealy and Ryan Pore, both forwards, will provide more variance at the sharp end of the attack, but it's the return of Klein from injury and the draft-day acquisition of wide midfielder Sasha Victorine from the Los Angeles Galaxy that will make the plan possible.
Utilizing the midfield flanks more efficiently will open up more space and enable the Wizards to switch the point of attack more quickly and more lethally.
"Last year, we missed a true outside midfielder," said center back Nick Garcia. "At times we lacked a little bit of service last year getting balls up the middle but also to our forwards through the outside, so I think we are going to have that option available here this year."
Players such as Jack Jewsbury, Alex Zotinca, Khari Stephenson, Diego Walsh and the since-departed Igor Simutenkov provided a mix of skill, versatility, and conviction while playing outside midfield at different times throughout the 2004 season as the Wizards still claimed the U.S. Open Cup title and a spot in MLS Cup 2004. But the flanks should find more stability in 2005.
"To be fair to the guys we had playing wide last year, they did a pretty solid job. However, having guys with a little bit more experience in there gives you a little bit of an edge, especially when you have four, five, six games a year against the same teams," said central midfield lynchpin Diego Gutierrez. "We were satisfied with the guys that we had, at the same time, when you [have the chance to] add a player of the quality of Sasha Victorine it's something you can't pass up."
Co-conspirator Klein is also glad to see Victorine join the midfield.
"Sasha is going to be a tremendous asset to the team. I hated playing against him for seven years, and I'm happy he's with us now," said Klein. "He's very technical, very good on the ball -- he does a lot of things well."
Together, Victorine and the returning Klein will provide the midfield with continuity and experience, but also their own brand of flexibility.
"I don't think either one of them has a problem playing the right side on their strong foot or playing the left side on their lesser foot," said Wizards head coach Bob Gansler.
Their duality and contrasting styles will enable the Wizards to sport different looks in-game and from game to game.
"Sasha is a possession player. He likes to attack, but he likes to defend as well," said Gutierrez. "I think Kleiny's a runner; he's relentless going forward and that's how he gets most of his chances. He's going and going and going. He wears people down. He gets in dangerous spots, makes runs inside."
Said Klein: "I play a more direct style, but I think we complement each other well, which will be a nice addition in the attack and the midfield. He's going to play on the right; I'm going to play on the left; he's going to play on the left; I'm going to play on the right. We're going to flip-flop and see how it works."
For his part, Victorine is looking to make the adjustments necessary to create a mutually beneficial relationship.
"Right now, I've been trying to talk to Klein to figure out how he plays the position so I can get an idea of what Bob [Gansler] is looking for from me. Rhythm-wise, everyone is saying they are a step behind right now, I feel like I'm two steps behind," Victorine said. "I'm still trying to get the rhythm of how the guys play, how they run off each other, where the ball's going to be played. I think once that gets going, overall, with Klein being able to be dangerous on the outside, then able come underneath to be dangerous, I think we'll be very good together."
Once Victorine and Klein acclimate themselves, others will surely benefit as well, and the Wizards will be able to come at opponents from all points.
Robert Rusert is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.